Friday, July 23, 2010
The first set of grandkids visiting Grammy and Grandpa just left, with two more sets yet to come. As the grandchildren get a little older, I've started to be concerned that they might find country life, in comparison to their busy suburban environments, well...booooorrring. After all, we're not within easy reach of some of their favorite things, like multiplexes, IHOP, Target, bounce palaces, etc., etc.
Turns out that when you introduce them to a creek, kids are still kids! Our farm is bordered by two creeks, Scotch Run and Catawissa Creek. For years we've had a nice swimming hole, about waist deep, behind the barn where the run joins the bigger creek. We even have a sandy bank, thanks to the deposits left behind by a few floods.
Apparently the appeal of catching minnows and salamanders is eternal. We caught and released a few hundred minnows this week, no doubt leaving them all with strange tales to tell all the other little minnows. The salamander our grandson caught was the prize of the collection. He wanted to save it to show his father, but the salamander, maybe wise in the way of small boys, made his escape from the bucket during the night.
Bjoern's method of catching wildlife involved stalking them carefully, letting them swim right up to his motionless hand before closing it. Greta is more of a pounce and grab artist, resulting in a lot of splashing.
When they got tired of bending over searching for minnows, they could jump back into the swimming hole to cool off. It's just wide enough for two kids to race side by side, discovering that they can go much faster with the current than against. Grandpa taught them the fine art of stone-skipping, while I showed them how to make body paint by rubbing two pieces of red shale against each other.
And when I wasn't busy admiring the latest catch or how high someone could jump off a rock, I had time to sit, listen to the gurgle of the stream, count the number of wildflowers along the bank, and find peace creeping into me, as it always does when I stop my busyness long enough to enjoy God's creation.
May you have many such moments this summer.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I’ll be heading to Orlando, Florida next week for the Romance Writers of America’s annual conference. It’s a jam-packed, exciting time filled with inspirational workshops, industry updates, meetings with my agent and editors, and a chance to visit with friends I see only once a year. It’ll also be time for a little fun, as one of my daughters will join me at the Disney Dolphin Resort with my granddaughters, ages 8 and 5.
The highlight of the conference is the announcement of the Rita Awards on Saturday evening, when romance writers honor the best of the best romance fiction published in 2019. Over 1,000 novels and novellas were judged in 12 categories, and it is hugely exciting to cheer for the winners.
I’d like to introduce one of my Christian writer friends who is a finalist this year. Tamera Alexander is a bestselling historical author whose books have won numerous awards. She’s earned a devoted following for the way she combines solid historical research, wonderful storytelling, and her devotion to her faith.
Tamera’s THE INHERITANCE is the first historical for the WOMEN OF FAITH fiction line from Thomas Nelson. Set in 1877 Colorado, it’s the story of a young woman’s struggle to let go of her independence while she discovers an inheritance beyond her imaging.
Here’s a bit about the story:
THE INHERITANCE by Tamara Alexander
An unexpected inheritance. An unknown future. An unending love.
Determined to tame her younger brother's rebellious streak, McKenna Ashford accepts her cousin's invitation to move west and to begin again. But she quickly discovers that life in Copper Creek, Colorado is far from what she expected. Shouldering burdens beyond her years, McKenna tries to be the parent Robert needs, instead of the older sister he resents. But an "untimely inheritance" challenges her resolve at every turn, while also offering a second chance to restore her trust--and perhaps even her heart.
U.S. Marshal Wyatt Caradon is dedicated to bringing fugitives to justice, yet years of living on the trail have taken their toll. When his path intersects with that of McKenna, he comes face-to-face with a past he never wanted to relive--and the one woman who can help him find the future he's been longing for.
As McKenna struggles to let go of her independence and Wyatt considers opening his heart again, they discover an inheritance beyond imagination. But it will come at a price.
Friday, July 9, 2010
This week I had the unique pleasure of doing a booksigning during the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Groundhog Summer Festival. Punxsutawney is known throughout the country as the home of Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinary. While the most important of Phil's activities occurs on February 2nd each year, when he tells the winter-weary whether or not there will be six more weeks of winter, he's also the host of a family fun festival each year during the week of the Fourth of July.
How, you might wonder, did the Punxsutawney groundhog achieve such fame, appearing on the morning news shows around the country on February 2nd, even inspiring the popular movie GROUNDHOG DAY? The tradition started, as so many Pennsylvania traditions did, with the Pennsylvania Dutch, settlers from Germany and Switzerland who brought their language and customs with them when they settled here. The second of February is Candlemas Day, and tradition says, "For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl in May." The traditional weather forecaster in Germany was a badger, but since Pennsylvania was lacking in badgers, the settlers used the local groundhog instead, and Phil has been predicting the weather officially since 1887.
We arrived shortly before time for the booksigning to find the town awash in groundhogs. Decorated groundhog statues, groundhog inflatable balloons, groundhog cookies, groundhog beanie babies, groundhog murals...anything that can be turned into a groundhog will be! I was signing at B's Books, a charming shop directly across from the park where the main events were held. The owner had prepared thoroughly for my visit, something which doesn't always happened. She'd been handselling my books and passing out bag stuffers for weeks, and we had a great event. It was such fun to talk to people who enjoy Amish fiction so much and had been looking forward to having their books signed.
We ended the day with a great dinner at a local restaurant--fortunately groundhog wasn't on the menu!
If you'd like to know more about Punsutawney Phil, visit www.groundhog.org.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
After living all my life (never mind how many years!) in Pennsylvania, I’ve just recently come to appreciate what we all owe to William Penn. Oh, sure, we studied him in 8th grade Pennsylvania history, but not very much has stuck since then. But as I’ve stumbled through some research on my own family genealogy, as well as researching the Plain People for the two series of books I’m writing about them, I’ve renewed my appreciation for Penn’s unique attitude, which has made us what we are. Without his “holy experiment” in encouraging immigrants of all religions to settle here and to worship as they chose, our culture would be so much poorer.
I read an estimate recently that nearly one-quarter of all Pennsylvania residents are of German descent, which seems astonishing to me. Probably most of those Germanic ancestors landed in Philadelphia in the 1700s, mine among them, and after all these years, we’re still here!
Among the groups who came seeking religious freedom, the Amish must be the most fascinating. Amish culture may have made its first impression on a general audience when Harrison Ford donned that Amish straw hat in Witness, but folks in publishing are still shaking their heads over the current wave of popularity of Amish fiction. Though searching to understand why readers across the country suddenly can’t get enough of tales of rumspringa and barn-raisings, publishers are naturally eager to provide what the reading public wants.
Several years ago, in the course of an existing inspirational romance series set in Pennsylvania, I introduced a few Amish characters. They seemed to fit the story I was telling, and they simply walked on. I wondered what my editor would say. Her response? Do more of that!
So now I have two separate series going for two different publishing houses, both with Amish settings. The Pleasant Valley series, for Berkley Books, is series of trade-size books focusing on the residents of a mythical central Pennsylvania valley, based very much on what I see when I look out my office window. Anna’s Return, Book 3, came out this month, and it seems to be doing well. Book 4, Sarah’s Gift, will be out in March. It’s completed now, and my editor and I have been back and forth via e-mail all week, trying to firm up the cover. For some reason, the art department just doesn’t seem to ‘get’ Amish, and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t want a woman wearing bright pink lip gloss on the cover!
My second series, for HQN Books, is a romantic suspense series which begins with Murder in Plain Sight, releasing in December. The two main characters are not Amish, but are involved in defending an Amish youth accused of murder. This series is set in Lancaster County, and since that’s obviously a real place, I have to be considerably more careful about my setting, though I hope readers may forgive a little artistic license in what I put where.
Writing about the Plain People has been a trip into my own family’s past for me. The Dovenbergers and the Ungers came to Pennsylvania from the same areas of Germany and Switzerland and at the same time as the Amish, and although not plain, have held onto many of the same traditions, especially when it comes to food. I’ve compiled a brochure of Pennsylvania Dutch recipes from family and friends, and I’d be happy to send a copy to anyone who cares to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Reading and Eating,
(And give a tip of the hat to Billy Penn the next time you pass him!)